Dream weaver, don’t go.

Last week I went to see Inception (thank you Stars and Strollers – bringing baby to theatre is such a treeeeat:) )

Dreams within dreams within dreams within dreams.

A new spin on an old old idea.

Why I’m thinking about this is: every website, book, article, etc, that has anything to do with writing says avoid dreams. Don’t open with a dream, don’t put in dream sequences, don’t use dreams point final.

Yet, dreams are such an integral part of our lives. How many times have I woken disturbed shaken happy excited from a dream? How many nights have my children wandered through the house crying because of a bad dream? Let’s face it, dreams are magical. They tell truths, and desires, hold our worst fears, and create in ways we never thought to in our waking lives. They are mysterious, and we want them to be real is some way. The very idea makes us cringe and giggle all at once.

Have you ever been woken from a dream and been discombobulated for minutes, hours, or even days?

When I was a little girl I had a dream that the tooth fairy came and took me to her home. I was flown up a flight of stairs, and passed many other occupants, paintings lined the wall, red carpeting everywhere. I woke and told my parents that in the night I was taken out by the tooth fairy. I believed it. Was certain it was real, no matter what my mom or dad said. As an adult I realize I experienced it in a dream.

Here we have Inception, that brought in the second biggest earnings a sci-fi film ever has upon its release, proving that dreams are still held in fascination by the human population.

So, what it is about dreams that agents, editors, publishers, tell us we can’t write them? Overdone? But what isn’t? Isn’t writing now all about new perspectives and perceptions?

(Just for the record, I have never written a dream sequence – which is odd considering – but I do love reading them.)

(In an effort to post more than once a week, I will attempt to post mid-week with either an excerpt from something I’m reading, a cool link, or some writing related silliness.)

27 thoughts on “Dream weaver, don’t go.

  1. It’s funny that you’re writing about this today. I’ve been having the weirdest dreams lately. Every night different people from my past appearing alongside other ones. I wake up in the morning and just shake my head.

    Do you remember Jacqueline Mitchard’s The Deep End of the Ocean? Came to her in a dream if I remember correctly. Maybe I should start writing mine down.

    1. I was intrigued, Cynthia by what you wrote on the Anna Papers. My library had it, and I came across this passage last night:

      In her dreams the lost children of her womb lined up across the tennis court to accuse her of killing them. Her husbands were together on the balcony looking down and watching. She sighed in her sleep and reached down into her tennis bag and Pointer appeared and told the children to go away and took her arm and led her into thr snack bar to get her a drink and a grilled cheese sandwich.

      Short sequence, but interesting how it was skilfully done.

  2. I can’t remember any book about creative writing telling me to avoid dreams. I can remember several telling me not to end any story.. “and I woke up and discovered that it was all a dream.” But then one of my first jobs was as an English teacher. So I knew that already. Many children used to end their stories that way, not realising it wasn’t an original idea. It is best to avoid such unoriginal ideas. The trouble with dreams is that they are so fundamental to imaginative writing that it’s hard to avoid dream clichés. The only solution is to read a lot. Many writers make use of dreams. Great writers and popular writers. The trick, apart from avoiding clichés, is to do it in a way that serves the story. When you say “and I woke up and discovered that it was all a dream” it’s not only hackneyed but it also undermines the story. Lockwood’s dreams in chapter 3 of Wuthering Heights serve the story perfectly and the novel would be slightly less memorable without them.

    1. Yes, Joseph, I believe you are right. Of course, Wuthering Heights could not be re-produced in any way shape or form now, could it?.

      “The only solution is to read a lot.” 🙂
      true true true

  3. Interesting. No one’s ever given me that advice about dreams. Probably about a third of my stories are inspired by dreams, and some of those that have had the best reader reaction have included dream sequences or characters having dreams (or nightmares – well I do write a fair bit of horror).

    The only things I don’t do are open with dream sequences or do the cliched thing at the end, of ‘…and then he woke up, to find the situation exactly as he’d dreamt it’.

    Maybe it’s just a rule that I broke because I didn’t know it existed, but managed to do so in a fairly readable way?

  4. I’ve heard about that advice so many times… Yet in my first novel, I used a lot of dreams 🙂 It was necessary for the story and to develop my character. I’m still not that sure about it, but when I’m reading a book and the author used dreams, it doesn’t bother me…

  5. I think sometimes the problem with dreams in fiction is that it’s hard for readers to identify with them. If the dream is quite a common one like being in a car and the brakes don’t work then the reader can recognise that the character is anxious or doesn’t feel in control. A more specific dream is harder to interpret.

    1. Interesting response, Helen. I wonder though what sets dreams apart from alternate realities such as sci-fi, fantasy, and historical settings. Are dreams more vague, or is it something more that you think is harder to interpret?

      1. Well, with alternate realities you can believe that they are real, and the author does their very best to convince you of that. With a dream sequence the author doesn’t want to convince you that it’s real (usually). So yes, descriptions of dream sequences are generally more vague than descriptions of alernate reality settings and there is an element of interpretation involved which can be tricky.

  6. I think dreams have been overdone and done badly at times, but as you say, there is an endless fascination. I have dreams from childhood that are still quite vivid. Interesting that most of my adult dreams haven’t tended to linger.

    I agree with Helen, I think it’s hard to identify (back to my point about not done well), but I know I’ve read compelling dream sequences. Of course, now I can’t begin to say where.

    Again to Helen’s point, as is always the writer’s goal, if we can make it universal, then readers will connect despite any initial bias.

    1. I asked Helen the same question, Cathryn, as I’ll ask you: what do you think makes dreams unique that they are harder to identify with?

      Same, I too can’t think where I’ve read great dream sequences, but I know I have! lol. I think YA writers use them more frequently than adult fiction writers…yet I love them, if done well! (as with anything else I suppose.)

      I think that now, as an adult, I am better able to grasp the concept of a dream, but I still have to remind myself from time to time that it was just a dream.

  7. What a gorgeous dream, Jennifer. I had similar dreams about Bigfoot as a child that I believed were real for a long time. In my dream Bigfoot was my protector, not scary at all.

    As for writing about dreams, it’s perfectly reasonable – everyone dreams so everyone can identify with them.

  8. I’ve never written a dream sequence either—until now. It’s actually what I’m in the middle of working on. Two story threads that connect past and present past, two seperate characters. I’m enjoying it so I guess that’s what matters most. We’ll see what my editor thinks.

  9. That was a beautiful dream about the tooth fairy, Jennifer.

    I have always taken my dreams seriously. During one particular transitional period of my adult life, I kept a dream diary. Clinically, I know what dreams are; spiritually, I’m not so sure.

    I confess, I didn’t know we weren’t supposed to write dreams into our fiction. I knew we shouldn’t write the whole story or novel as if it were real only to reveal at the end it was all just a dream, but not use dream sequences? No.

    The basics of my last novel came to me in a dream. In it, I use two short nightmare sequences during a stressful time for one of the characters.

  10. Hi Jennifer,

    I think dreams are wonderful. I’ve always had vivid dreams.

    As fiction goes, however, there may be problems with including dreams in the story, certainly dreams in italics.

    I tend to use dreams to bring out the main character’s emotional state in occasional short paragrams – for instance, “that night, I slept badly again. I kept on waking and dreaming unsettling snippets of dreams that made not real sense to me. Dreams about….” And I will try to develop the character’s sense of life falling apart through short descriptions of the various dreams rather than a long dream.

    Anyhow, just my opinion.

    Good luck with your writing.

  11. Oh the almighty dream…I too have always read the no-no’s about using dreams–especially in a book’s opening. I’ve done it, more times than I care to admit. In fact my debut novel began (in a very early draft) with a dream sequence–I have since cut it and not looked back. But you’re so right, Jennifer–dreams are SUCH a huge part of our lives–and it does seem somewhat disingenuous to omit them from a story when they are so prevalent in real life.

    In other subjects…a movie theater that encourages strollers and their darling occupants? Sounds like heaven!

    1. Oh yes, Erika! reduced sound for wee ears, and soft lighting. changing tables, wipes, all a mommy (or daddy) could need! I would think there must be something similar in your area, but I think yours are older and you might not have need?

      I think so many writers have done such with dreams – they’re just too powerful not to have!

  12. Hi Jennifer,

    I like your page. And as for this post, well, I’ve heard the same warnings you and others have heard. I take them more as a warning against an overused plot device than actually against dreams, though. Milan Kundera (author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being and the nonfiction work The Art of the Novel) wrote that the dream life is one of three critical aspects of the dream. But I think, having seen how Kundera uses it, the dream has to serve the character and presented the way dreams are presented in real life: NOT tricking the reader into thinking they are reading actual events. That’s just a cheap way to get suspense!

    I’m writing a short story with a a brief dream sequence in it now. The narrator, after confessing he hates listening to the dreams of others, begins to tell his own. Yes, the dream has some suggestions of anxiety and guilt, but I wasn’t looking to develop a psychological reading at all. More to the point, the narrator is a self-absorbed. How he frames the dream, and what he makes of the dream, is much more important than its content.

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